Category Archives: Historical

Review: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

Title: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
Publisher: Hogarth
Genre: Historical (80s, 90s), Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.

Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, THE BARROWFIELDS is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

Review:

Set in a rural town in the Appalachian Mountains,The Barrowfields is a melancholy yet interesting debut by Phillip Lewis.

After tragedy strikes their family, young Henry Aster reminisces about his father, also named Henry, who managed to leave his rural roots only to return with his pregnant wife, Eleonore, when his mother’s health begins to fail.  Henry Sr is a prodigious reader with dreams of writing of his own novel and works as a lawyer to support his family. After winning a lucrative case, he purchases a rather spooky house that overlooks the town where he works on his novel while drinking heavily.  Following a tragic loss, young Henry eventually follows in his father’s footsteps as he leaves for college only to eventually return to his birthplace where he must finally come to terms with the events that occurred before striking out on his own.

The flashbacks from Henry Jr about his childhood offer a somewhat bleak portrait of his rather dysfunctional family.  Henry Sr spends night after night writing his novel and drinking which leaves Henry Jr. taking on paternal duties with his much younger sister Threnody.  Most of Henry’s reminiscences focus on his dad with only passing mention of his mom, Eleonore, who is apparently quite devoted to her husband.  After Henry’s paternal grandmother passes away, Henry’s family undergoes a few changes that end in tragedy and culminate with Henry Sr.’s continued downward spiral.

The pacing of the novel picks up when Henry Jr goes to college where he also goes on to law school.  He spends a lot of his time drinking and mooning over  Story, the young woman who has stolen his heart.  However, Story has her own drama to contend with but Henry is a willing participant in her quest to attain answers that no one is willing to give.  It is not until Henry returns to face his own past that he figures out the truth she has searching for.  In the process of coming to terms with his family’s history, Henry attempts to repair his long fractured relationship with Threnody.

Although a bit slow paced, The Barrowfields is an imaginative debut novel.  Phillip Lewis brings the setting vibrantly to life and it is quite easy to visualize the rural town and its inhabitants.  The characters are richly developed and life-like with all too human frailties and foibles.  An atmospheric coming of age novel that leaves readers hopeful Henry Jr and Threnody will find a way to avoid repeating the mistakes that took their father down a somewhat dark path.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Historical (80s), Historical (90s), Hogarth, Phillip Lewis, Rated B, Review, The Barrowfields

Review: Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

Title: Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Historical (60s), Mystery
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

In this sparkling debut novel imbued with the rich intrigue of Kate Atkinson’s literary mysteries and the spirited heart of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, a disparate group of Londoners plunge into a search for a missing American actress.

In the dreary days of November 1965, American actress Iolanthe Green has become the toast of the West End. Charismatic, mysterious, and beautiful, she brings color and a sprinkling of glamour to the scuffed boards of Soho’s Galaxy Theatre. But one evening, after another rapturously received performance, Iolanthe walks through the stage door, out into the cold London night, and vanishes.

All of London is riveted as Fleet Street speculates about the missing actress’s fate. But as time passes and the case grows colder, the public’s interest turns to the unfolding Moors Murders and erupting political scandals. Only Anna Treadway, Iolanthe’s dresser at the Galaxy, still cares. A young woman of dogged determination with a few dark secrets of her own, she is determined to solve the mystery of the missing actress.

A disparate band of London émigrés—an Irish policeman, a Turkish coffee-house owner and his rebellious daughter, and a literature-loving Jamaican accountant—joins Anna in her quest, an odyssey that leads them into a netherworld of jazz clubs, backstreet doctors, police brutality, and seaside ghost towns. Each of these unusual sleuths has come to London to escape the past and forge a new future. Yet as they draw closer to uncovering the truth of Iolanthe’s disappearance, they may have to face the truth about themselves.

Review:

Set in London during late 1965, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson is mystery about an American actress who disappears after her performance at a local theater.

When Iolanthe “Lanny” Green fails to show up for work Monday afternoon, her dresser, Anna Treadway, is concerned but she is certain Lanny is just running late.  However, when she misses the next day’s performance as well, she is reported missing and the local newspapers run with story.  Detective Sergeant Barnaby Hayes is assigned to the investigation but he is making little headway as he searches clues that will help him locate the missing actress.  When public interest wanes, Anna takes it upon herself to do a little amateur sleuthing on her own and she finds some very interesting details about Lanny but will the information she uncovers help her find the missing woman?

The investigation into Lanny’s disappearance is interesting and takes some very unexpected twists and turns.  Unfortunately, the bulk of the storyline is not focused on the mystery surrounding the missing woman.  Readers are instead introduced to a number of people whom Anna either already knows or she meets during her search for Lanny.  DS Hayes is the only person in an official capacity trying to find Lanny and even he is facing prejudice from the people he works with. The unfolding story is a little convoluted and disjointed and feels more like social commentary for the diverse characters who are involved in the search for the actress.  Each of the characters’ issues are interesting and thought-provoking but the mystery element of the story quickly feels like an afterthought.

Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson is a fascinating peek into lives of an eclectic and diverse set of characters in London during the mid 1960s.  The mystery surrounding Lanny’s disappearance is quite intriguing and all of the loose ends about what happened to the actress are completely wrapped up by the novel’s conclusion.

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Filed under Harper, Historical, Historical (60s), Miranda Emmerson, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars, Mystery, Rated C, Review

Review: Setting Free the Kites by Alex George

Title: Setting Free the Kites by Alex George
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical (70s), Fiction
Length: 334 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

From the author of the “lyrical and compelling” (USA Today) novel A Good American comes a powerful story of two friends and the unintended consequences of friendship, loss, and hope.

For Robert Carter, life in his coastal Maine hometown is comfortably predictable. But in 1976, on his first day of eighth grade, he meets Nathan Tilly, who changes everything. Nathan is confident, fearless, impetuous—and fascinated by kites and flying. Robert and Nathan’s budding friendship is forged in the crucible of two family tragedies, and as the boys struggle to come to terms with loss, they take summer jobs at the local rundown amusement park. It’s there that Nathan’s boundless capacity for optimism threatens to overwhelm them both, and where they learn some harsh truths about family, desire, and revenge.

Unforgettable and heart-breaking, Setting Free the Kites is a poignant and moving exploration of the pain, joy, and glories of young friendship.

Review:

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George is a nostalgic yet poignant coming of age novel which takes place on the coast of Maine during the mid seventies.

In 2016, the demolition of a long vacant paper mill is the catalyst for Robert Carter’s recollections of his long ago friendship with Nathan Tilly.  The two boys meet in 1976 after Nathan’s family relocates to Haverford from Texas.  Thirteen year old Robert notices Nathan right away, but he is more concerned about bully Hollis Calhoun than making new friends. Just as Hollis is visiting a new torture on his poor, beleaguered victim, bold and brash Nathan steps in to rescue Robert.  Nathan’s adventurous spirit and indomitable zest for life is the perfect foil for Robert’s more cautious approach to life and the two boys enjoy many fun-filled exploits over the course of their friendship.

The youngest of the Carter sons, Robert is often eclipsed by his older brother Liam who suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  Their parents dote on Liam while his health deteriorate as his disease worsens.  Robert adores Liam yet he is ever mindful of the very different relationships the two boys have with their parents.  Not one to rock the boat (or break the rules), Robert tries to keep out of trouble and the limelight since his parents have enough to worry about with Liam’s illness.

Robert’s unexpected friendship with Nathan is one escapade after another as the two boys run free and embark on fun-filled days out of the sight of their parents.  Nathan’s unbridled optimism is a stark contrast to Robert’s fears and concerns yet Robert is always quick to overcome his doubts about whatever exploit Nathan proposes.  Even in the midst of heartbreaking losses, they manage to find a way to step outside their grief and find happiness in each other’s company.  Not even the mundane jobs they undertake at Robert’s family amusement park can put a damper on their exploits but even the strongest bonds can be tested when one of the boys discovers his first love.

While the overall story is incredibly heartfelt and enjoyable, there are a few things that occur toward the end of the novel that need mentioning.  Without giving away any spoilers, here are a few observations about the most notable revelations and plot twists.  Late in the story, one of the characters does something that is so out of character that is impossible to believe.  Heavy foreshadowing from the first chapter hints at one of the events that occurs so it should not come as a surprise to readers once it finally happens.  And the final plot twist is an absolute delight and explains an awful lot about one of the secondary characters.

Setting Free the Kites is a very moving novel of friendship that is quite compelling. The coastal setting is harsh yet beautiful Alex George brings it vibrantly to life. Robert and Nathan are wonderfully developed characters that are multi-dimensional and so life-like it is difficult to believe they are fictional.  The storyline is engaging and although each family experiences devastating losses, the boys’ adventures and natural resiliency prevent the novel from becoming bogged down in grief.  Readers will appreciate the touching epilogue that completely wraps up any loose ends.  An extremely heartwarming and engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages.

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Filed under Alex George, Fiction, GP Putnams Sons, Historical, Historical (70s), Rated B+, Review, Setting Free the Kites

Review: Blackwell by Alexandrea Weis with Lucas Astor

Title: Blackwell by Alexandrea Weis with Lucas Astor
Publisher: Vesuvian Books
Genre: Historical, Paranormal/Supernatural, Thriller
Length: 300 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Hell has a new master

In the late 1800s, handsome, wealthy New Englander, Magnus Blackwell, is the envy of all.

When Magnus meets Jacob O’Conner—a Harvard student from the working class—an unlikely friendship is forged. But their close bond is soon challenged by a captivating woman; a woman Magnus wants, but Jacob gets.

Devastated, Magnus seeks solace in a trip to New Orleans. After a chance meeting with Oscar Wilde, he becomes immersed in a world of depravity and brutality, inevitably becoming the inspiration for Dorian Gray. Armed with the forbidden magic of voodoo, he sets his sights on winning back the woman Jacob stole from him.

Amid the trappings of Victorian society, two men, bent on revenge, will lay the foundation for a curse that will forever alter their destinies.

Review:

Blackwell by Alexandrea Weis with Lucas Astor is a dark historical thriller with slight paranormal elements.

Magnus Blackwell and Jacob O’Connor’s friendship begins when they are both architectural students at Harvard.  Magnus, who is from a wealthy family, is a little jaded, spoiled and quite popular with both his classmates and the ladies.  Jacob is an orphan who is attending Harvard on scholarship and feels out of place amongst his fellow students.  Magnus is a bit broody and angry with a sense of entitlement that seems to be an all common trait in his privileged world.  Jacob is much more kind-hearted than Magnus and he finds it easy to forgive his friend’s boorish behavior.

Despite the two men’s differences, their friendship flourishes until Magnus sets his sights on Frances McGee. Trouble ensues when Frances rejects Blackwell and later marries Jacob. Overrun with jealousy, Magnus goes on vacation in New Orleans where Oscar Wilde introduces him to Madame Simone Glapion, a brothel proprietress and voodoo high priestess. Glapion quickly senses the evil lurking inside Blackwell and their acquaintance culminates with a stunning altercation that sets Magnus on an increasingly dark and twisted path.

While Blackwell is sinking deeper and deeper into depravity, Jacob and Frances begin married life together.  Although deliriously happy, their life is marred by financial struggles as Jacob tries to secure a well paying job as an architect.  So when Magnus returns from New Orleans and offers him a job renovating his family home, Jacob quickly accepts the position.  He and Frances live on Blackwell’s estate where Magnus proves to be a difficult client to please. Frances grows increasingly uneasy with their situation but with few employment prospects on the horizon, Jacob ignores his reservations while trying to reassure his wife all is well.  Unbeknownst to Jacob and Frances, Blackwell’s bitterness and jealousy over losing Frances to Jacob is about to spill over in a shocking act that will have unintended consequences for both men.

Featuring a storyline that is rife with elements of jealousy, vengeance and revenge, Blackwell by Alexandrea Weis with Lucas Astor is an intriguing story with several unexpected twists and turns.  The sweet romance between Frances and Jacob is a stark contrast to Blackwell’s sexually explicit exploits with prostitutes and servants.  The novel’s conclusion is quite dramatic and completely unexpected.  A fast-paced historical novel with a supernatural twist that fans of the genre will enjoy.

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Filed under Alexandrea Weis, Blackwell, Contemporary, Historical, Lucas Astor, Paranormal, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements, Thriller, Vesuvian Books

Review: The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes

Title: The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes
Windham Brides Series Book One
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical, Romance
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

THEY CALL HIM THE DUKE OF MURDER…

The gossips whisper that the new Duke of Murdoch is a brute, a murderer, and even worse—a Scot. They say he should never be trusted alone with a woman. But Megan Windham sees in Hamish something different, someone different.

No one was fiercer at war than Hamish MacHugh, though now the soldier faces a whole new battlefield: a London Season. To make his sisters happy, he’ll take on any challenge—even letting their friend Miss Windham teach him to waltz. Megan isn’t the least bit intimidated by his dark reputation, but Hamish senses that she’s fighting battles of her own. For her, he’ll become the warrior once more, and for her, he might just lose his heart.

Review:

The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes is an entertaining, sweet historical romance.  While this is  the first novel in the Windham Brides series, I strongly encourage readers to read the Windham series since MANY of the secondary characters from these previous books figure prominently in The Trouble with Dukes.

Hamish MacHugh is dismayed to discover he is now the Duke of Murdoch. He wants nothing more than to return to his beloved Scotland but alas, he must put the needs of his family first.  He is hoping his stay in England will be brief as his beloved sisters, Edana and Rhona, replenish their wardrobe and enjoy as many social gatherings as possible.  Hamish’s wartime reputation precedes him which makes him quite uncomfortable at the numerous balls and parties he must attend with his sisters and brother, Colin.  Gruff and plainspoken, Hamish makes quite a few social gaffes as he tries to navigate the complicated world of the British aristocracy but he is also rather softhearted when it comes to the people he cares about.

Megan Windham  is a lovely young woman with poor eyesight and a giving heart. She finds herself in the unenviable position of fighting off the attentions of Sir Fletcher Pilkington, a loathsome suitor  from a suitable family.  She is grateful to Hamish when he steps in to aid her during an unpleasant encounter with Pilkington and her respect for the troubled war hero grows deeper each time they meet. Megan is quite taken with the attractive Scotsman but she is caught in an untenable situation with Pilkington that could ruin her and her sisters’ reputations if the truth about her youthful mistake were ever to be revealed.

Megan and Hamish are a wonderful couple who find it quite easy to confide in one another.  Their scenes together are a wonderful mix of delightful banter and thoughtful exchanges about their lives and simmering attraction. However, with Hamish planning to return to Scotland as soon as possible, he sees no future for the two of them.  But Megan’s extended family makes it impossible for him to say no to their “invitations” and the more time he spends with her, the more smitten he becomes.  After she confesses the mess she has gotten herself into with Pilkington, Hamish comes up with a plan to get her out of trouble.  After executing their scheme to rescue her from her detestable suitor’s clutches, Hamish and Megan’s relationship deepens but is Fletcher truly out of the picture?

While The Trouble with Dukes is an overall enjoyable novel, it is difficult to understand why Megan would not tell her family about the situation with Fletcher.  The Windham family is obviously quite close and they are also very influential so it would make sense for her to ask them for their assistance with her problem.  Pilkington’s interest in other heiresses is well-known so it seems impossible that NO ONE in her family is the least bit suspicious about his motives when he sets his sights on Megan.  Even more unbelievable is the fact that her parents seem to be encouraging the match!  This entire part of the storyline is fairly ridiculous and somewhat unbelievable.

The inclusion of the other Windham characters is rather bewildering if you have not read the Windham series.  Between the use of proper names, titles and numerous nicknames, it is virtually impossible to keep up with who everyone is and who their spouses are.  While fans of the other series will enjoy catching up with favorite characters from earlier novels, newcomers might them hopelessly confusing.

The Trouble with Dukes is a charming historical romance with a cast of appealing characters.  The storyline is interesting but the pacing of the novel is a little slow. Although a bit flawed, it is a nice beginning to Grace Burrowes’ Windham Brides series.

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Filed under Forever, Grace Burrowes, Historical, Rated C, Review, Romance, The Trouble with Dukes, Windham Brides Series

Review: Love, Alice by Barbara Davis

Title: Love, Alice by Barbara Davis
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Historical (60s), Women’s Fiction, Romance
Length: 428 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the author of Summer at Hideaway Key comes a sweeping new Southern women’s fiction novel about forgiving the past one letter at a time…

The truth lies between the lines…

A year ago, Dovie Larkin’s life was shattered when her fiancé committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come.

Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter—a mother’s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter—and immediately needs to know the rest of the story.

As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery’s lost and found  begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston’s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman’s past—questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss—she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future…

Review:

Love, Alice is a heart wrenching story of loss and grief that is ultimately uplifting. With the secondary story arc that takes place during the 1960s, Barbara Davis brings much needed attention to the abhorrent “Magdalene Laundries” where unwed mothers were forced to give up their babies and endure horrific living conditions.  The present day storyline is equally affecting as a grief-stricken young woman searches for answers about her fiancé’s inexplicable suicide a year earlier.

On the one year anniversary of her fiancé William Prescott’s death, Dovie Larkin is no closer to understanding why he took his own life and she still remains mired in grief as she visits his grave daily.  With her family, boss and friends running out of patience with her inability to move past her tragedy, she is already in danger of losing her job when she becomes obsessed with a series of letters that were written by Alice Tandy during the 1960s. Trying to help Alice’s elderly mom, Dora, find a measure of peace for forcing her unwed daughter give her baby up for adoption, Dovie puts her career in jeopardy when her search for answers leads to the Tate family, who just happen to have recently made a huge donation to the museum where she works.   Working closely with Austin Tate on a fundraiser, Dovie tries to respect his request that she stay away from his grieving mother, Gemma,  but she quickly realizes that Gemma quite possibly holds the key to finding out what happened to Alice.  Will uncovering the truth about what happened to Alice and the baby she gave up for adoption help heal Dora’s wounds?  Can understanding Dora’s grief provide a way for Dovie to move past her own grief?

Dovie’s need for answers about William’s suicide is completely understandable but it is very frustrating watching her push away her friends and family in the process.  It is also somewhat maddening that even though she KNOWS her job is in jeopardy, she continues to make reckless decisions that puts her career on the line.  It is not until she meets  Austin that she is forced to take a hard look at her relationship with William and face the truth that has been staring her in face all along.  Dovie is also very dismayed by her unnerving attraction to the handsome Tate heir, but Austin has his own demons to make peace with before their relationship can move forward.

The storyline about Alice’s time at the  Blackhurst Asylum for Unwed Mothers  is incredibly poignant and utterly heartrending.  The stigma of unwed pregnancy is the driving force behind Dora’s decision to force her daughter to give up her child for adoption.  Through a series of letters written over the years to her beloved baby, the  truth about Alice’s time at Blackhurst and her subsequent search for her child emerges in heartbreaking  detail.

From the first gut wrenching and emotional letter to the final deeply moving missive,  Love, Alice is an absolutely riveting story that is impossible to put down. The plot is a bit predictable but this does not lessen the impact of this touching story. The characters are beautifully developed and although deeply flawed, they are sympathetic and easy to root for.  Barbara Davis’s decision to include the “Magdalene Laundries” in the novel adds an incredible amount of depth and substance to the storyline. The addition of a slight romantic element lightens the story but it also forces Dovie and Austin to deal with the unresolved issues from their previous relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend beautiful novel of healing and redemption.

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Filed under Barbara Davis, Berkley, Contemporary, Historical, Historical (60s), Love Alice, Rated B+, Review, Romance, Women's Fiction